I pull into the tiny town of Bloom in western Kansas, tires crunching gravel like war rubble, and step out beside the paired ruins of the Bloom School and the Lighthouse Baptist Church. All that's left of the school is its prodigious concrete arch, cracked foundation slabs, and some rebar gnarling the air. The church is just a stone front and back. A sign over the door reads: Bloom Youth Center. But do not enter—the roof caved in long ago.
Bloom's devastation came slowly. The school consolidated in nearby Minneola in the 1960s, and the post office closed in 1992. Now the gas station is boarded up, the words “no trespassing” scrawled next to a wobbly, spray-painted heart. The only business left is a grain elevator. Bloom represents the extreme end of the decline many rural communities face—and fear.